I opened my eyes with a struggle. Everything was blurry, but there was light. And there was color. I was no longer atop a crumbling skyscraper, drenched by black rain under a dark sky.
Instead, I appeared to be in a spacious room warmly lit with floating orange lights that illuminated a floor of polished white marble and walls decorated with elegant red and white fire patterns.
The contrast was so jarring with the scenery of my death that I was completely dumbfounded, unable to react.
”Look! The child opens his eyes! ” I heard a womans voice laced with excitement echo out. The words the voice uttered were entirely foreign to me, but somehow, I still understood them.
Wait, besides that, how was I even able to hear anything? Or see anything?
Wasn I dead?
What…exactly was this?
Had I been dreaming before? Had I made up that last fight that killed me? That still didn answer where this was.
Had I meditated without eating or drinking for too long? Had I eaten one too many suspicious mushrooms and gotten into a really, really bad trip?
I felt myself get picked up with big, strong hands at my sides, whisked high into the air, and I immediately reacted with sheer instinct.
I knew how to deal with bigger, tougher enemies that relied on brute force and muscle mass. All I had to do was make sure to gouge the eyes, put a spear finger through the ear, or crush the windpipe or…
Wait a second.
No, not just a child, a literal baby.
My body did not move at all according to my whims.
Gone was my iron temple of honed muscle, bone, and tendons. In were soft, squishy limbs that did not respond to me at all.
”The child even flails its arms! Mere seconds after leaving the womb! This is a wonderful sight, my lady and lord! ” A young woman looked up at him with striking red eyes, eyes that did not exist back on earth unless through some odd mutation, and long, silky black hair.
She was the one holding me up, staring at me with a mirthful smile.
What was first most striking about her was first her outfit. It looked much like a maids uniform. And second her ears. They were long and pointed.
Even in the post-apocalyptic world, plenty of cultural relics had survived, and I quite liked scavenging old games or manga or comics. Reading them was a good escape from the broken and desperate world around me.
The elf maids eyes settled between my legs. ”Oh, and it is a boy, too. Wondrously healthy, full of vigor, and a man to boot: your bloodline is assured to continue! ”
I noticed then that gone was the vast majority of my manhood, too. Suffering this horrible loss, a loss that I was sure all men feared, I wondered if this was a hyper-realistic nightmare.
”The boy does not cry, ” came a panicked voice. ”Why does he not cry? Are not children all supposed to cry? Is something wrong with him? Is he defective? ”
The elf whisked me away to the source of that voice, and I felt myself held in the arms of another woman. I looked up see a human staring down at me in concern with deep blue eyes that looked like glinting crystals, faceted and sparkling. She drew back sweat-matted locks of long auburn hair to inspect me closer.
I was always good at reading faces.
And her face showed nothing but concern.
Concern in a strangely cold way, like she was worried she was looking at damaged goods, not a healthy baby.
At the very least, it wasn a look I found comforting as a newly minted child.
”Not all infants cry, my lady, ” said the elf. ”It is not abnormal. See how he wriggles his fingers, how he moves his arms and legs? How he breathes so rhythmically? These are all signs of perfect health. Trust me, my lady, my many years as a royal midwife speak truly. ”
Yeah, this must have been a nightmare, I thought, not just because of my severely nerfed manhood, but because of the sheer absurdity of this situation.
I heard that some people thought right before your brain shut down, you could live entire lifetimes. Maybe this was that?
Maybe this wasn so bad. This whole setup seemed like one of those reincarnated into another world type novels I read through.
Perhaps my brain was rewarding me with a simulation of a good life after a lifetime of fighting and having nothing.
But the moment I started to question reality was the moment something in my head, some deep, instinctual feeling, convinced me otherwise.
This was very real. This was a new life.
I didn have to wander through a ton of logical thinking hoops to reach that conclusion, and I was never the type to think too hard anyway. I just knew the conclusion was right.
The why didn matter, it felt as self-evident a truth as saying water was wet.
”Bring the boy to me. ” This time, it was a mans voice.
The elven maid gently held me in her arms as she brought me over to a pair of ruby red, glowing eyes that stared at me with sternness.
Come on now, I thought, I am literally a newly born baby. Im too young to be dealing with looks like this.
The maid held me towards the man, but he shook his head and raised a white gloved hand.
”You will not hold your child? ” the elf said.
”No. He is covered in filth. I will not touch him until he is washed, ” said the man, who I now knew as my father, though, with what he had just said, I could tell instantly that I wasn going to get along with him.
In my old life, I never had parents.
Biologically, I guess I did, I wasn just spawned out of nowhere.
But before I could even remember their faces, I was sold off for food to a martial artist obsessed with raising the savior of the post-apocalyptic world.
Said martial artist became my master, but he was never really my father.
I was one of a hundred orphans he had taken in, and his training was brutal enough that every year, several of us died until at the end, there were just four of us.
By design, too.
My master passed down four unique styles and he never intended on having more than one successor to each.
We were not so much adoptive children as we were one long term experiment, the confounding variables and defective specimen culled until only the cream of the crop remained.,
Needless to say, I never knew what it was like to lose myself in a parents warm embrace. I never knew that kind of love. But at the very least, I knew I wasn going to find that with my father.
”As you will, my lord, ” said the elven maid.
”He is a healthy child. Large, too. My wife would have suffered greatly had it not been for the healing magic, ” said my father.
Magic, huh. Now that piqued my interest. Back on earth, there was no such thing.
Well, you could argue qi was like magic, but it didn let you shoot beams from your hands like some manga would indicate.
All it did was amplify your physical traits which had incredible effects to be sure, but nothing on the scale of the magic Id read and seen in fiction. At best, it simply let you exceed normal human limitations, but actual martial arts experience was what gave that strength any sort of edge.
I felt excited to see what this world had in store for me. If I was lucky and like countless other main characters in these types of reincarnation novels, Id probably even have a huge cheat to give me an easier life as well.
My initial shock and trepidation melted away into anticipation. I had suffered and struggled my entire past life.
Maybe finally I would get to live an easy, comfortable life. Did I deserve it? No, but I would take what was thrown my way.
”Yet, I cannot sense a hint of magic from him, ” said my father. He put his hand on his angular chin made even sharper with a striking black goatee.
”Human children do take longer to show their potential, ” said the elven maid. ”I heard that it may take up to seven years before they show signs of magic sensitivity, though within the people of this kingdom of mages, it manifests even earlier. ”
”I know that. I am not one of the lords of Orias twelve great houses of magic for no reason ” said my father impatiently. ”But if this boy is a true child of mine, he should be showing his magical potential straight from the womb.
Sparks from his fingers, perhaps, considering he is of my fiery blood. A ripple in the air, or perhaps, if he was truly talented, Crystal Eyes from birth.
I showed such signs, at the very least, and so did my father before me, and his father before him.
This is already disgraceful. ”
Gee, thanks for the encouraging words, dad. At this point, I truly hoped I wouldn see much of him.
”This boy is destined for greatness, ” said the maid. ”As you said, he is your child. He will no doubt inherit house Huos renowned mastery over fire. And perhaps if he is lucky, the ladys divinely blessed mystic trait to bend all manner of beast to her will. ”
”If he has even a shred of my blood, that will be the bare minimum, ” said my father. ”But until he exhibits magical potential, I will have his existence be a secret. I cannot risk the shame to my house to have sired a child incapable of magic from birth. ” He turned around, placing his hands behind his back.
The loose sleeves of his clothing hid his arms entirely in a veil of red patterned with gold shaped into flames.
I noticed that his getup that looked remarkably similar to a Chinese hanfu. It was a garb that I was quite familiar with as the martial arts I practiced in my old life came from a longstanding Chinese lineage, though it did incorporate techniques and principles from styles all across the world.
”I must attend to more urgent matters. See to it that the child is taken care of, Eyva. ”
”Yes, my lord, ” said the maid with a bow, whom I now recognized as Eyva, keeping her head lowered until my father left through an ornately decorated wooden door that slid open not through technology, but magical force.
As Eyva bowed her head, she looked down at me in her arms, giving me a warm, gentle smile. Her face was pretty, perhaps all elves were pretty like they were type casted in fiction, but it helped give her a halo effect that made her smile that much more comforting.
I had heard that even babies could tell when something was ugly or pretty to look at. Maybe this was proof of that. Or maybe it was because my brain still somehow worked normally adult-wise despite being an infant.
What I did know for sure was that I preferred Eyvas company over my father or my mothers any time of the day.
”Can I hold him again? ” said my mother.
”Certainly, my lady. ” Eyva carried me over to my mother, and I wondered if she was going to use this chance to redeem herself in my eyes.
My mother was bedridden, no doubt from birthing me, but she seemed quite fine, sitting up straight against several large, velvety pillows. She had a slim, slight figure, small and petite – I could understand why my father said she would have had trouble pushing out a large baby – but her condition didn seem too bad.
Her plain white dress clung to her skin with sweat, but her skin was hearty and hale, not at all exhibiting the paleness or strain of a woman that had gone through one of the most painful experiences possible.
The white sheets she laid atop were faintly stained in blood, though said blood grew fainter by the second due to some form of what I presumed was cleaning magic.
”Oh, my dear little child, ” said my mother as she held me, staring at me with worry. ”I do so hope that you will show your potential soon. If not-, ” She gazed at the door my father left through. ”I would have married that man and given him a child for nothing. My house will remain unknown. If you are a Fell child…oh, I do not even want to entertain such horror. ”
My mother hugged me, but more so to comfort herself than me, as if I was like a doll.
I made a judgment call then that though my mother wasn as overly harsh as my father, she was no true mother. Her eyes still had no real warmth in them.
To her, like I was to my father, I was simply a tool, a vessel to carry on their blood with my entire worth predicated on nothing but my magical potential.
A part of me wondered what would happen if I never showed magical potential. Nothing good, that was for sure. When my thoughts meandered over there, I started to involuntarily cry, and there was nothing I could do to control it.
The downsides of being a baby, it seemed. I was not in full control of my body anymore.
My mother tried to soothe me, but her touch was awkward. Rough. Too heavy handed for a baby, as if she was never meant to be a mother in the first place. As if being a mother had been something thrust upon her, not something she had prepared to accept.
It did make sense. My mother looked very young. At best, she was twenty, and that was stretching it. In contrast, my father had slight wrinkles around his eyes and creases around his lip that made him seem to be in his mid to late thirties.
This seemed like an arranged marriage, one that was loveless, and that lovelessness leaked down to me, the product of this utilitarian union.
In the end, my mother handed me over to Eyva who quietly rocked me to sleep, her warm embrace and gentle rocking acting like tranquilizer.